Blog: The Impact of School Closures on the Attainment of Disadvantaged EAL Pupils

This post reviews a webinar which comprised a panel of experts who discussed the impact of school closures on the learning and achievement of pupils who use English as an Additional Language (EAL).

Our most recent webinar comprised a panel of myself and four experts who discussed the impact of school closures on the learning and achievement of pupils who use English as an Additional Language (EAL). Our webinars are proving so popular that the technology can’t cope with the demand!  This meant we decided to record the session and schedule the Q&A session at a later date.  You can watch the recording of it by following the link on our website.

Our first speaker was Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation.

Throughout her talk, she highlighted the impact school closures will have on learning loss, the attainment gap and the likelihood that it will widen as a result of school closures, and the ways in which opportunities for learning gain during school closures are unequal, especially for pupils who are economically disadvantaged. She also observed that upon schools reopening, the focus should be on the progress of learning recovery and compensation in order for students to catch up on the learning they have missed.

I spoke about how EAL students face a double job – learning English and learning the subject at school. Meaning that on top of the learning loss experienced by disadvantaged children, EAL pupils will also experience a language learning loss.  School closures will result in EAL pupils having much less exposure to English, which in the early years and primary, for children who are still acquiring English, will put them at a disadvantage and result in them not being able to access the curriculum.  However, if well supported at this stage, EAL pupils can do well, making the importance of early years language support essential.  I underlined the strong evidence-based association between proficiency in English and attainment and the need to ensure that schools are able to assess the English language proficiency of their learners.  I also spoke about the importance of exposure to academic language for older EAL pupils and how specific language support will be needed in the secondary years so that pupils can catch up on the academic language needed for examinations.

Jo Hutchinson, from the Education Policy Institute began by addressing three key facts from the pre-COVID world, she then went on to explore the ways in which these facts relate to the current climate. Her first point covered the support needed, in which she spoke about arriving in school after reception being associated with lower attainment, as well as the language barriers to accessing remote learning. In her second point she highlighted that support practices for EAL pupils vary significantly across the country, and that remote learning also varies from location and school in quality, quantity and media used. Finally, Jo addressed that funding for EAL pupils does not match the need, evidence shows that it takes longer than the three years of funding provided in the system to achieve the proficiency in English required to access the curriculum and attain well.  Other countries typically provide support for a much longer period.

Professor Steve Strand, from the University of Oxford, focussed on the awarding of GCSE and A-Level grades in the absence of examinations.  He outlined that this will be a two-step process in which teachers will be required to estimate an individual pupil’s grade, as well as a ranking of how secure they think that grade is. He explained that this process is followed by a centre standardisation in order to ensure the distribution of grades by a school is what would reasonably be expected and that this will be determined by observing prior attainment. Professor Steve Strand highlighted that focusing on prior attainment will negatively impact EAL pupils and that using KS2 data would systematically underestimate GCSE predictions for pupils who have a low proficiency in English. His suggestion was that Ofqual should use a full Contextual Value Added (CVA) model for each GCSE subject.

Kim Baker from Luton Borough Council focused on the positive action many schools in Luton have taken in order to reduce the negative impacts school closures can have on disadvantaged EAL pupils. Some of these steps included repurposing old IT equipment and providing WIFI dongles for students who do not have access to technology or the internet.  She also highlighted the need for teachers to undertake trauma training to ensure they are fully equipped to support students when schools reopen as many of their families will have been impacted by the virus. Finally, Kim stressed the importance of teachers understanding the additional support required by EAL pupils following a prolonged period of school closure.

Some of the key themes addressed by the panel of speakers throughout the webinar were methods of supporting EAL pupils when schools reopen, understanding the variety of factors which may impact disadvantaged EAL pupils as a result of school closures, plans that need to be put in place for when schools reopen to reduce the amount of learning and language learning lost, and the link between English language proficiency and attainment.

The negative implications disadvantaged EAL pupils may face as a result of school closures

The panel highlighted many of the negative implications disadvantaged EAL pupils may face as a result of the prolonged period of school closure. Some of these will be true for all disadvantaged children and some will have additional impacts on children with English as an Additional Language.

  • Inequality of access to technology/the internet
  • Resources in the home
  • Ability of the parents to support their children - making opportunities for learning gain unequal
  • Disadvantaged EAL pupils will experience the learning loss faced by disadvantaged children as well as a language learning loss
  • Language barriers to accessing remote learning
  • Lack of access to academic language needed for examinations and loss of English immersion in schools for EAL pupils

How we can support EAL pupils once schools reopen

Speakers’ recommendations to support EAL pupils once schools reopen included:

  • Assess and understand EAL students' proficiency in English as well as the impact of the loss of language learning during the period of school closure
  • Reintroduce the Proficiency in English Scales
  • Target teaching to ensure accelerated language development takes place alongside the curriculum
  • Focus on long term strategies
  • Teacher training to build skills and teaching approaches to support the language development needed for EAL students to catch up with their English-speaking

Author: Diana Sutton, Director, The Bell Foundation

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